PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - The statistics are alarming. Every 15 seconds in America, a woman is physically abused. And a trio of events - Hurricane Katrina, the recession, the Gulf oil spill - have contributed to an increase in domestic violence along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
A group called New Beginnings formed recently in Jackson County, and is offering help to the victims of abuse. The group sponsored a luncheon Thursday where Margo Evans with the domestic violence unit of the Attorney General's office spoke to about 80 people.
She said one project designed to help reduce incidents of abuse involves educating students, grades K-thru-12, about relationships.
"Just to teach students how to have healthy relationships. Because students that grow up in homes where there's abuse, that's all they see. That's all they know. That's how they think a relationship is supposed to be," Evans told the group.
The faces in the room represent education, law enforcement, health care and social services. All have some role in dealing with domestic violence issues and cases or helping to stop the abuse.
Doreen Davis is the executive director of New Beginnings.
"Women find it so hard to admit to anyone that someone they loved, someone they trusted, is now the very person that's hurting them. And it's just too painful to admit that this has happened. Until it gets to the point where she really feels she's just about to lose her life or her children are in danger," said Davis.
And why do victims of abuse so often fail to report the crimes or choose to return to an abusive partner?
"Fear. They are afraid for their lives. Often times, the woman is most at risk for abuse and fatality when she leaves or threatens to leave," said Rachel Nilsen, who counsels victims of domestic violence.
The statistics are startling. For instance, did you know that Mississippi has the second highest rate of domestic violence in the country? Or that one in four women will experience some form of domestic abuse in her lifetime.
"The children are the ones that suffer the greatest. They are exposed to this day after day and there needs to be services offered to these families to help the women and children get out of these situations," said Nilsen.
New Beginnings in Pascagoula offers counseling for victims of abuse. They also have a court advocate who can help victims obtain a "protective order" against an abusive spouse or partner.
The group wants to open a domestic violence shelter in Jackson County, which does not currently have such a facility.